Families of friends, living in the same mohalla on the fringes of Delhi, and facing regular black outs during summer, enact after a mid night meeting, when the men unable to sleep, gather for a smoke and some shugal, under a drooping Peepul tree:
“Is garmin ne toh hamara tel hi nahi nikal diya, jism mein se sara paani nichod ke rakh diya!” lamented the skinny Patla, exhaling a cloud of smoke from his nostrils.
“Shukur manao tumhari rooh to tumhare pinjare mein hain, warna aise hi chalta raha hum sab farishte ya danav ban chuke honge”, intoned the toothless Teli, the local bespectacled barber.
“Aacha hoga, kum se kum is garmin se to bachenge”, interjected Shramik the grave digger. “Magar kya jo danav banege, woh Hell mein aur zyada tapman mein nahin jhulsenge?”
“Ab is se zyada Hell kya hoga? 47 degree, bati gol, pankhe bund!”, yelled Meta-Shramik, the Undertaker.
“Sshh-Ssshh, tum logon ne aadhi raat ko kya halla dal rakha hai?” whispered Jai Jawan as he staggered into the group from a side alley. “Patle, ek cigarette dena, yaar?” pause “Maachis?” pause “God Bless”.
“Canteen ki rum thok ke aareya hai” teased Patla, lighting another cigarette himself. “Be-bijli garmin ko kos rahe the” continued Patla as he forced out a downward jet of smoke from one nostril.
“Pagle” hiccupped Jai Jawan, “Daru kyun nahin pete?” as he drew a deep drag of his cigarette.
“Ya, malish bhi karwa sakte ho”, it was Teli’s turn, “jo tel nikal gaya usse wapis tumhare ander pohchadunga”.
“Bund karo ye bakwas, agar garmin se itne pareshani hai to kahin paharon mein jane ka plan kyon nahin banate? Shimla-Wimla?” shouted Mrs Meta-Shramik from inside a dark, open window.
The men were silent, quickly calculating the size of the monetary hit they would have to take.
“Haan kyun nahin, bilkul ho sakta hai” exclaimed the inebriated Jai Jawan.
Just then the leaves of the Peepul rustled ever so little and the breeze was felt by the men below.
“Aahaa, paharon ki thandi hawaein kaise honge”?
The families along with half a dozen kids and toddlers, Lucky, Simple, Billa, Titoo, Bhola and Kushboo are packed in two Tata Sumo taxis chugging up the hill towards Kufri, the high point above Shimla. Kushboo, the toddler is squirming in her mother’s lap and letting out muffled cries every now and then.
Jagdish (Patla’s senior citizen dad): Hum to garmin se bhaag ke aaye the, magar yahan bhi paseena choot raha hai. Aur khirkhee kholo to gaari dhuein se bhar jaye.
Taxi driver (wiping beads of perspiration from his forehead): Poocho na ji. Traffic ne to bas haad kar di hai. Gaddi chalana bara aukha kam ho gaya hai. Horn baja baja ke to hamari battery down ho jati hai. (Everybody laughs).
Meta-Shramik the undertaker, quietly: “Woh peeche ek cemetery thi, surang ke pass. Maine wahan jana tha”
“Abhey, jaldi kya hai, aakhir mein to tu wahan pahounch hi jayega!” guffawed Jai Jawan.
The other men laughed and the ladies giggled, except Mrs Meta-Shramik.
Jagadish: Arre kya bolte ho. Yeh to pehle mohalle walon ko wahan pauncha kar hi jayega! (more laughter. Mrs Meta-Shramik too grinned).
Taxi driver: Lo ji pahounch gaye. Yahan se aage ya to ghore par ya paidal.
Kids (in unison): Maine ghore par jana hai! (The taxis were surrounded by pony wallahs shouting “Aao Sahib, Aao Sahib, saste mein lechalenge”).
The women hastily pulled their hankies or pallus over their nostrils as the stench of pony shit hit their open car like a malodorous tsunami. Soon the kids were on ponies and the parents following to get to Mahasu dhar the top of Kufri.
Mrs Patla (who was quite heavy, after walking a while): Uff, Uff! Yeh to bahut chadhaee hai.
Jagadish (with his new walking stick from Lakkar bazaar): “Ibtadae ishq hai……….aage, aage dekhiye hota hai kya” teased Jagadish from behind.
Patla (generally to the ladies): Sab zara sambhal ke chalna, kahein kisi to stretcher par wapis lejana pare.
The Kids (turning back and waving): Mommy, Daddy, jaldi karo. Dekho kitna sunder hai. (Distant snow peaks glistened in the Sun and milky white clouds ballooned against a deep blue sky).
The Ladies (now bunched uncomfortably on the steep hillside and wiping their sweat): Sunnoji, aur kitna door hai?
Mrs Meta-Shramik: Hai, Hai, mere to ghutne ke nas hi chad gaye hai. Aage jana mushkil hai.
Mrs Patla: Nahin Mrs Meta-Shramik, mere jaise heavy duty agar chad sakti hai to aap ko kya? Thora weight bhi kam hoga.
The men had made it to the top and were clicking photographs of their kids on ponies and of themselves. The pony wallahs were getting impatient to return. The ponies snacked at the grass. The pony wallahs after much haggling, left, murmuring all the way down. The kids pleaded for kulfi sticks being peddled by vendors nearby.
Jagadish: Nahin, Nahin, gala kharab karna hai kya? Neeche chalo, wahan tumhe ice cream le kar denge.
Shramik: Tattoo wallon ne to loot liya!
It was late afternoon by the time the group wobbled back to the waiting taxis. Billa while running down hill tripped and bruised his knees. He was crying silently as the other kids consoled him. Jagadish’s knees were hurting. Mrs Meta-Shramik, with her ‘ghutne ki nas’ used Mr Meta-Shramik as a crutch to get down while the other men sadistically let out suppressed giggles.
Jagadish: Chalo saal bhar ka chalne ka quota pura ho gaya.
The others nodded in agreement.
Presently, the taxis stopped at a restaurant in Kufri. After much pushing and pulling and coaxing the kids (who wanted sit near the window), the group was finally seated for a late lunch, hungry.
Waiter (in soiled clothes but business like): Haan ji, kya khaoge?
Waiter: Yahan vegetarian hi milta hai.
Jawan: Oh No!
Jagadish: Dal, roti, chawal, subji, dahi; sab ke liye.
Kids: Aur ice cream bhi!
Waiter: Khatam hai.
Others: Kya? To phir hai kya?
Waiter: Masala dosa, vade aur onion uttapam.
Kids: Aur ice cream?
Waiter: Dekhta hoon.
So dosas and uttapams were ordered as per choice. Everybody ate in silence. The kids made faces at the fare and waited anxiously for news about the ice cream.
Mrs Patla: Sunno bhaiya, coffee milegi kya?
Waiter: Coffee nahin, sirf chai hai.
Kids: Hamari ice cream?
Waiter: Pigal gayee, bijli nahin hai. Kal se.
The kids wailed out loudly. Jai Jawan put his hand to his mouth suppressing a laugh. Jagadish assured the kids he would buy them ice cream in Shimla.
Jawan: Uncle, how about a drink for the big kids?
On the way to Kalka to catch the train to Delhi, the group joked and laughed at each other’s plight going uphill and downhill in Kufri.
Jagadish: Yaar yeh toh ek khoufnak khawab ki tarah tha; chalo pura hua.
At the back, Jai Jawan still high on beer, was humming to himself:
“Zindigi khawab hai, Khawab mein jhoot kya aur bhala sach hai kya”?